1930's, Cheek to Cheek, cinema, Classics, Film, film industry, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Hays Code, Hollywood, motion picture industry, motion picture production, Movies, Musicals, Top Hat

Cheek to Cheek with Fred and Ginger

“She gave him sex and he gave her class.” – Katharine Hepburn

Ironically, many of my favorite movies were produced during the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s when moral restrictions were strongly regulated and enforced by the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 (“Hays Code”).  Its guidelines addressed violence, nudity, profanity and sex.  By the late 1950s, the Hays Code’s influence on the film industry was greatly reduced due to anti-trust rulings and competition from television and foreign films.  The Hays Code was eventually replaced by the current MPAA film rating system in 1968.

Sometimes I miss the Hays Code and the inventiveness it inspired.  Top Hat exemplifies the creative and subtle qualities that are often lacking in today’s more explicit films.  Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers effectively convey romance and passion in “Cheek to Cheek” – the film’s classic centerpiece – without removing any clothes or sharing a kiss.  Watch Fred and Ginger elegantly dance through the stages of seduction from courtship to afterglow.  Cigarette, anyone?

American Dream, Analysis, cinema, controversy, D.W. Griffith, Film, hero, history, Hollywood, motion picture production, Movies, race relations, racial stereotypes, silent movies, The Clansman, Trayvon Martin, villain, War

The Rebirth of a Nation — Part 1: Heroes and Villains

“The nation [the founders] envisioned and created was a white supremacist nation. Meaning, it was founded on the notion that whites should rule, that whites had superior ability to rule, that the nation should be a white republic, and that people of color surely should not have equal rights with whites.” – Tim Wise

When The Birth of a Nation (“BOAN”) was released 97 years ago in 1915, it was heralded for its technical innovations and was the first film screened at the White House.  However, many – including the NAACP – protested BOAN’s degrading black stereotypes, glorification of the Ku Klux Klan, and its racist propaganda dressed up as historical representation.  Despite its controversies, BOAN is a valuable part of my film collection.  It is a movie that I watch and refer to regularly.  The hegemonic worldview expressed in BOAN is still very relevant, unfortunately, and offers great insights about the ongoing pervasiveness of American racism, even more so in the wake of the Trayvon Martin tragedy.

BOAN dramatizes the Civil War and its consequences from the perspectives of two families – the Stonemans from the North and the Camerons from the South.  Life in the South before the war was depicted as idyllic.  Whites reigned supreme while blacks were carefree and content in their subservient roles.  After the war, however, the defeated Southerners fell under the rule of “carpetbaggers.”  They also found themselves vulnerable to the newly freed slaves who outnumbered them, had voting rights, violent tendencies and the audacity to pursue white women.  The Southerners responded to this threat to their existence by forming an underground vigilante group to restore “order” to the South, and hence the Ku Klux Klan was born.

“Why not retain and incorporate the blacks into the state…?  Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained…will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race.” – Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia

Jefferson’s quote reflects the inconsistencies on which this nation was founded – contradictions that have yet to be meaningfully recognized.  On the one hand, this slave-owning author of the Declaration of Independence acknowledged the “injuries” inflicted on blacks due to racial discrimination.  On the other hand, however, Jefferson rationalized that it was in America’s best interest to deny blacks equal rights and protections under the Constitution in order to avoid retaliation and anarchy.  

“I felt a little bit threatened, if you will, in the attitude that [President Obama] had.” – Arizona Governor Jan Brewer

As if taking a cue from Jefferson, BOAN depicted the newly emancipated blacks as irresponsible, brutal and out of control.  The abuse of their newly acquired political power left whites disenfranchised and helpless to do anything about it.  Left to their own devices, blacks were well on their way to taking over the nation.  That is until the Ku Klux Klan rode in and saved America.   Using intimidation, coercion and violence to oppress blacks, the Klan’s methods were deemed necessary to preserve the nation.  The end justified the means.  Could this be why an unarmed man can be shot 41 times and his murderers set free?  Perhaps this explains why a man who was outnumbered and beaten savagely on videotape was perceived as the aggressor.  Is this why Trayvon Martin, armed only with a cell phone, Skittles and ice tea, was shot to death and his assailant, George Zimmerman, has so far avoided murder charges by claiming self-defense?  Adding insult to injury, it has been reported Zimmerman “suffers” from PTSD – as if that’s any comparison to being DEAD.  

“It’s time this generation learned the difference between a villain and a hero.” – J. Edgar Hoover

The irony of quoting Hoover on this topic aside, the concept of heroes and villains works well in fiction.  In BOAN, the villainous blacks are returned to a submissive position by the heroic Ku Klux Klan.  The Klan’s savior status is denoted by the superimposed images of Christ and a Klansman in the final minutes of the film.  Therefore, it stands to reason, according to BOAN, that if the Klan is godly, then blacks are the direct opposite.  However, in real life using the “good versus evil” rubric to assess others often leads to tragic consequences.  Dehumanizing and demonizing one’s opponents and/or those with whom you are unfamiliar results in a delusional sense of self-righteousness and an unwillingness to consider different points of view.  Peaceful resolutions are replaced by ongoing conflict and domination. 

“If you’re black, you gotta look at America a little bit different. You gotta look at America like the uncle who paid for you to go to college but molested you.” – Chris Rock

America likes to see itself as the land of freedom, justice and opportunity – a harmonious, multi-cultural melting pot.  That is not my reality though I yearn for that ideal.  In my America, racial discrimination and stereotyping are constant companions.  Racism does not always involve physical violence, although its emotional toll can be just as destructive over time.  Its more subtle forms include low expectations, backhanded compliments and hasty assumptions. 

History informs me that demanding Zimmerman’s arrest is not enough.  Based on the way this case has been handled so far and the efforts to criminalize Martin, the state of Florida is incapable of conducting a fair trial.  This case must be prosecuted on the federal level.  There also needs to be a major shake-up in the Sanford Police Department. Resignations/terminations are not sufficient.  The conduct of the police and state attorney’s office should be thoroughly investigated.  Negligent law enforcement officers must be prosecuted and their pensions should be revoked.  Maybe then they will value the rights of everyone they are supposed to “serve and protect.”  Finally, looking to the future, now is the time to push for legislation about racial profiling with specific guidelines and consequences applicable to both law enforcement officials and civilians. 

Frank Costello: “When I was growing up, they would say you could become cops or criminals. But what I’m saying is this. When you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?” – The Departed

The Ku Klux Klan’s hoods versus Trayvon Martin’s hoodie – who’s the hero and who’s the villain?  Whether it’s on the screen in BOAN or in real life, the designation of heroes and villains is not absolute.  There are many shades of gray.  The real dilemma is not in the “hero” and “villain” designations; it is in the desire to categorize them in the first place.  After all, the concept of heroes and villains is relative.  Much depends on which end of the proverbial loaded gun you find yourself on. 

What will it take for this nation to be reborn? 

TO BE CONCLUDED

“The Rebirth of a Nation – Part 2: Truth and Reconciliation”

Academy Award, Denzel Washington, film industry, Hollywood, motion picture industry, Oscars, Sidney Poitier, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Denzel Washington Accepts Academy Award in 2002

Ten years ago, on the same evening that Sidney Poitier was presented with an award for lifetime achievement, Denzel Washington and Halle Berry won Academy Awards for their respective leading roles in Training Day and Monster’s Ball.  Though I had mixed feelings about their stereotypical roles –Berry as a tragic, dependent sex object and Washington’s portrayal of a corrupt cop – I still enjoyed seeing them honored.  In particular, despite the overly exuberant presence of Julia Roberts, Washington’s acceptance speech is what made the evening memorable for me.  Perhaps I’m being too hard on Roberts.  After all, given the same opportunity, I too would have draped myself all over Washington like a cheap suit.

 “Two birds in one night, huh?” – Denzel Washington

Washington began his acceptance speech by referencing Berry who had just won.  Unlike Berry who was tearfully grateful, Washington was cool, confident and in control.  Washington’s manner indicated that he recognized his self worth and talent with or without the award.  The only emotion Washington showed was his acknowledgement of Poitier who looked on proudly.  Maybe Washington’s previous disappointments with Malcolm X and Hurricane tempered his enthusiasm and expectations.  Perhaps he had come to realize that actors are not always recognized for their most outstanding roles.  Or it’s possible that Washington chose to keep his real feelings private.  Whatever the reason, Washington showed a healthy respect for the award without appearing to need its validation.   

With the Academy Awards about to begin shortly, I find myself emotionally torn once again.  I am rooting for Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer to be recognized for their fine work while hating The Help, a film that trivializes the pervasive evil of America’s racism.  Will there be another memorable moment tonight?  I’ll be watching and hoping…

Video clip:  Sidney Poitier Looks On As Denzel Washington Accepts Oscar

Analysis, Anthony Hemingway, black cast, Film, film industry, George Lucas, Hollywood, motion picture industry, movie war heroes, Movies, race relations, Red Tails, Reviews, Tuskegee Airmen

Red Tails: A Bad Movie with Good Intentions

“My girlfriend is black, and I’ve learned a lot about racism including the fact that it hasn’t gone away, especially in American business.  But on a social level there’s less prejudice than there was. So I figured, let’s put another hero up there.” – George Lucas

Red Tails, the action drama about Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, opened in theaters nationwide today.  George Lucas’s herculean efforts to get the film made – which included personally financing the project to the tune of $93 million – are well documented.  Over the past few weeks I have received numerous messages via e-mail, Facebook and radio strongly urging support of this film during its opening weekend.  This is supposed to send an unmistakable message to Hollywood power brokers to make more “positive” black films.  Really?  I think not.  Begging through the box office – as proven time and time again – is not an effective way to get more racially balanced, multi-dimensional and realistic images from the film industry.  Also, despite the film’s historical significance and Lucas’s good intentions, Red Tails is not worthy of the cause célèbre status that has been bestowed upon it by many in the African American community. 

“I’m making it for black teenagers.  They have a right to have their history just like anybody else does.” – George Lucas

Of course everyone should know and claim their history, but it is the height of paternalistic arrogance for Lucas to determine what that should be for black teenagers.  Red Tails was historically shallow and predictable in a cartoonish way.  More attention was given to the action scenes than to story and character development.  There was no sense of the black pilots’ familial ties, experiences in America, or expectations and hopes.  Their motivations – beyond patriotism – were unclear. Other possible motivating factors, such as making their communities and loved ones proud and/or expanding career options, were not explored.  One of the pilots carried a photo of black Jesus which was very progressive for the 1940s. Unfortunately, that pilot crashed and was badly burned.  I leave you to interpret that subtext for yourself.

The pervasiveness of racism à la Jim Crow was watered down when dealt with at all.  One such scene took place in the segregated officers’ club.  The Tuskegee Airmen were invited in by the white officers and treated to drinks after a successful mission.  One of the Tuskegee pilots, Smoky (Ne-Yo), chose to share an oft-told, corny joke about color.  The gist of the “comic” story was that whites turn various colors depending on their emotions, yet they call black people colored.  The white and black officers shared a laugh.  Kumbaya! This unrealistic, contrived, feel-good moment glossed over the complexity of racism.  During the Jim Crow era, I find it hard to believe that black officers would enter a segregated officers’ club, even if invited.  They would create their own gathering space to relax and let loose.  If they did take that risk, however, they certainly wouldn’t tell a joke about whites while there.  However, in Lucas’s world, all is well over a beer.  How does this fanciful nostalgia benefit black teenagers?  I have no idea.

“I realize that by accident I’ve now put the black film community at risk [with Red Tails, whose $58 million budget far exceeds typical all-black productions].  I’m saying, if this doesn’t work, there’s a good chance you’ll stay where you are for quite a while. It’ll be harder for you guys to break out of that [lower-budget] mold. But if I can break through with this movie, then hopefully there will be someone else out there saying let’s make a prequel and sequel, and soon you have more Tyler Perrys out there.” – George Lucas

So now the man who gave us Jar Jar Binks sees himself as the savior of black films?  Lucas means well but he just doesn’t get it.  Nor do the others who have rallied around Red Tails as if its fate determines the future of black film production.  Let’s be clear, if Red Tails nosedives at the box office, it will not be because it has a predominantly black cast or lacked publicity.  It will not be because we do not support films with “positive” black images.  Nor will it be due to lack of interest in the courageous Tuskegee Airmen.  It will be for one reason and one reason only – it is a bad film.  Period.   I must confess that it has been fun watching Lucas, who has profited greatly through the Hollywood system, recreate himself as an outsider for the purpose of promoting this film.

“Long-term power is more important than short-term money.” – Warrington Hudlin

Once upon a time, we had independent filmmakers like Oscar Micheaux and Spencer Williams who made films specifically for black audiences.   Hollywood noticed their popularity and made their own, more expensive versions of black films.  Black audiences, favoring the splashier productions, abandoned the independent films and have been at Hollywood’s mercy ever since.  Hollywood is not changing, but we can by no longer settling for whatever is tossed our way.  We can actively seek and support independently produced movies that are entertaining and offer a variety of images and stories. 

Brothers and sisters, fret not.  Starting next month, all six of the Star Wars movies will be theatrically re-released in 3-D.  Whatever fate befalls Red Tails, George Lucas is going to be alright.  What about us?  When will we finally accept that it is a waste of time to solicit an industry that misrepresents us over and over again?  Soon, I hope.

Adaptations, Analysis, Black women, cinema, Film, For Colored Girls, Hollywood, Movies, race relations, Reviews, The Help, Waiting to Exhale

The Help For Colored Girls Who Are Still Waiting to Exhale

“The black woman is the mule of the world.” — Zora Neale Hurston

Being a black woman in America is to be rendered irrelevant, irreverent and invisible on a daily basis.  Nowhere is this reflected more than on television and in the movies.  We are often shown denigrating each other, raising hell, trying to snare a man à la Flava Flav, or vexing over the identity of the baby daddy.  Other depictions include the jump-off, Mother Earth, confidante, tormentor, victim, and objects of ridicule by men in drag.  The lack of non-stereotypical, relatable images is why the release of such films as Waiting to Exhale, For Colored Girls and, currently, The Help become major events for many of us.  In groups we attend screenings and gather for live and online discussions.  Some are just happy to see themselves, while others yearn for realistic, multi-dimensional characterizations that, unfortunately, are few and very far between.  Perhaps there is an unspoken wish for inspirational and empowering images – a shero – instead of the usual cautionary tales.  As for me, my expectations were tempered long ago.

Waiting to Exhale
 
Even though I was a fan of the book and looked forward to its release, Waiting to Exhale has become unwatchable over the years.  Much of what made it a compelling novel was discarded in the adaptation.  Though the movie featured four black women prominently, the underlying, not so subtle theme was:  White women are more desirable than black women.  The only two scenes worth revisiting feature Bernadine (Angela Bassett): the cathartic car burning and Bernadine’s encounter with James (Wesley Snipes) at a hotel bar.  Their too-brief interaction took the movie to a deeper dimension with unfulfilled promise.  Having read the sequel Getting to Happy, which is now in pre-production, I have no desire to see that as a film.  The good news is the novel is so atrocious that any adaptation will be an improvement.
 
For Colored Girls

Seeing the staged production of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf for the first time in the 1970s was an unforgettable experience.  Blown away by the poetry, storytelling and the performances, I left the theatre feeling rejuvenated and ready to take on the world.  I doubted the play with its non-linear narrative could be successfully adapted to film.  My skepticism quickly changed to a strong sense of foreboding when I learned that Tyler Perry would be at the helm.  From the business perspective, I understand why Perry was selected.  His track record at the box office is impressive and he has cultivated a loyal audience.  However, Perry was totally inappropriate for the material.  His forte is comedy – exaggerated, over-the-top comedy with stereotypes and clichés.   His few attempts at drama have been heavy-handed and well-intentioned at best.

Perry’s interpretation of For Colored Girls left me emotionally drained and in need of a nap.  The plotlines were thin and the characters were not well developed.  There were some great performances, including standouts Anika Noni Rose and Phylicia Rashad.  There were, however, missed dramatic opportunities.  Yasmine/Yellow (Rose) was denied the chance to confront her rapist.  Instead her “redemption” was to slap his cold, lifeless face as he laid in the morgue.  The story would have been greatly enriched and more depth added to Yasmine’s character if we had followed her efforts to put the rapist behind bars.  Instead a clumsily, contrived situation was introduced to wrap up her storyline.  What a copout!  In frustration I could only imagine how much more directors like Gina Prince-Bythewood, Kasi Lemmons and Julie Dash would have brought to the production.  I really appreciate August Wilson for insisting on director approval before his plays could be adapted to the big screen.  Can you imagine Perry or one of the Wayans directing Fences?

The Help

In the 1934 version of Imitation of Life, Bea (Claudette Colbert) gets rich from her maid’s (Louise Beavers) pancake recipe.  Delilah (Beavers) wants no share of the profits and is content to continue as Bea’s maid.  There is a scene where the two women turn in for the night.  Bea ascends the stairs as Delilah descends to her room downstairs.  That scene summed up the movie: Black people are happy in their place – tending to the needs of whites.  That same sense of “selflessness” is present nearly 80 years later in The Help, which begins and ends with Aibileen (Viola Davis) comforting and encouraging white females.

“You is kind.  You is smart.  You is important.” – Aibileen

Like Delilah, Aibileen is greatly responsible for Skeeter’s (Emma Stone) success.  When Skeeter is offered a new job in New York, Aibileen and Minny (Octavia Spencer) assuage Skeeter’s so-called guilt and encourage her to go – as if there was ever a possibility Skeeter wasn’t taking off.  Meanwhile Aibileen is unemployed with little to no prospects, and Minny appears destined for a life of servitude with no hope of upward mobility.  In my reimagined scene, Skeeter informs Aibileen and Minny about her job offer.  She justifies her departure while Aibileen and Minny smile politely and exchange knowing looks.  As Aibileen and Minny reflect on the injustice of being used once again, their words wish her well but their eyes do not.  That would have been more realistic.

“I found God in myself and I loved her.  I loved her fiercely.” – Ntozake Shange

Nothing But a Man

I discovered Nothing But a Man in college.  It is now one of my favorite films and the best onscreen depiction of a relationship between a black man and black woman and how it is impacted by racism, loss of income and a child from a previous relationship.  Initially, most of my attention was drawn to the commanding presence of Ivan Dixon as Duff.  I thought his wife Josie (Abbey Lincoln) was too agreeable.  However, with maturity I began to appreciate Josie’s quiet strength and admired how she continued loving Duff, even when he didn’t love himself.  In the midst of hate, violence and patriarchy, Josie did not allow herself to be defined by others’ fears, insecurities and ignorance.  She retained a kind, loving nature and strong sense of self.  Now that’s a shero!  It was then that I began to recognize those qualities in many of the women around me like my mother, grandmothers, aunts and friends.  This is why I don’t get upset or put much stock into how we’re portrayed and perceived anymore.  People who want to believe the worst are going to do so regardless.  I don’t need television and movies to affirm me.  There are sheros all around me, and every now and then I see my shero smiling back at me in the mirror.

 

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Academy Award, cinema, diversity, Eddie Murphy, Film, film industry, Hattie McDaniel, Hollywood, Lena Horne, Louis Gossett, motion picture industry, Movies, Oscars, PS 22, race relations, Sidney Poitier, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Everything You Need to Know About the Oscars — Part 3: The Illusion of Inclusion

PS 22 Chorus at the Oscars

And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true…” – lyrics from “Over the Rainbow”

In a highly ironic and revelatory twist, the 83rd Academy Awards concluded with a performance of “Over the Rainbow” by Staten Island’s PS 22 Chorus.  At first glance, it appeared that the Oscars and the film industry valued youth and ethnic diversity.  However, with nary a person of color honored and The King’s Speech as the night’s big winner, that carefully presented picture of inclusion was nothing more than an illusion.  While some viewers gushed over the chorus’s “inspirational” performance, all I saw were white honorees smiling down benevolently at the group of predominantly Black and Latino singers.  Once again, I was reminded how little the Oscars and the film industry have progressed in regards to diversity.

“You look very appealing to a younger demographic.” – Anne Hathaway

Attempting to boost sagging ratings by attracting a younger audience, the best picture nominees were expanded from five to 10 in 2009.  The rationale was that more viewers would watch if popular films (translation: box office mega hits like The Hangover) were contenders for the top prize.  Demographics and ratings also influenced the selection of Anne Hathaway and James Franco as this year’s co-hosts.  The Social Network emerged as an early frontrunner for best picture.  However, reminiscent of the old bait-and-switch, The King’s Speech – a 1930’s period drama about Great Britain’s royalty (white, privileged and beyond wealthy) – triumphed over the more contemporary and youth-driven Inception and The Social Network.  Viewers who tuned in expecting a youth-oriented program discovered instead that it was business as usual.  The values and preferences of the Academy’s older voters prevailed.

“When they first came to me and said that they wanted me to present the award for best picture, my first reaction was to say, No!  I’m not going because they have not recognized Black people in the motion picture industry.” – Eddie Murphy

I remember watching the Oscars that night in 1988 and feeling very bored and disconnected.  Two things prevented me from channel surfing – the misplaced remote control and my comfortable chair.  Instead I flipped through magazines as the show dragged on and on.  Then Eddie Murphy came out to present the Best Picture Oscar and took the show to another level.  Crackin’ and fackin’ – mixing humor and truth – Murphy broke from the script and shared why he was reluctant to be there.  Suddenly, I felt better.  Not only did Murphy say something I could relate to, he had the audacity to express it at the program’s climactic moment.  His comments, particularly the timing, drew some criticism, but Murphy gained my deep admiration for his truthfulness.

“[My manager] said, ‘What are you talking about?  Black people win Oscars.’  I said Black actors and actresses have won Oscars throughout the 60 years.  Hattie McDaniel won the first one.  Then Sidney Poitier won one and Lou Gossett won one…” – Eddie Murphy

Although additional black actors have won Oscars over the last 23 years, not much has changed systemically regarding diversity and how movies are green lighted.  Similar to the suggested influence of youth, ethnic diversity in the film industry is superficial.  Blacks and other minorities are still often portrayed stereotypically and/or in limited ways – when they’re visible, that is.  There were no people of color – insignificant or otherwise – to be found anywhere in The King’s Speech or among the nominees this year.  Instead the children from PS 22 were brought out to sing about rainbows and infinite possibilities.  The message was loud and clear:  Hollywood prefers to look inclusive without actually being that way.

This year’s memorial homage to Lena Horne also reflected the film industry’s brand of diversity.  During Horne’s heyday in the 1940’s, her musical numbers were filmed as segments that could be easily removed for segregated southern audiences without affecting the plot of the movie.  In other words, though Horne was in the movie, she was not an integral part.  Lena Horne’s isolation continued as she was “honored” individually with an introduction by a very grateful Halle Berry.  Horne was praised for her perseverance; however, a real tribute would have acknowledged the racial discrimination that Horne and other actors of color endured.  Instead of compensating for the unfulfilled potential of Horne’s film career, the tribute demonstrated the industry’s denial and/or unwillingness to address its inequities.

“And I’ll probably never win an Oscar for saying this, but, hey, what the heck.  I’ve got to say it.  Actually, I may not be in trouble because the way it’s been going, we get one about every 20 years.  So we ain’t due for one until about 2004, so this may all be blown over.” – Eddie Murphy

What will it take to see genuine diversity in Hollywood?  Change will not happen voluntarily or by moral persuasion.  Nor does the film industry take kindly to any type of critique.  Eddie Murphy was the front-runner for his 2006 supporting performance in Dreamgirls – having won all the major awards up to that point.  When his name was not pulled from the sacred envelope, many blamed the apparent snub on the ill-timed release of Norbit.  While Norbit didn’t help, I believe it was his candid observations back in 1988 that kept the golden statuette out of his grasp.  Murphy was well aware that his remarks could affect his chances of ever winning an Oscar, however, he underestimated how long it would take for it to be “blown over.”

“I have no regard for that kind of ceremony.  I just don’t think they know what they’re doing.  When you see who wins those things – or doesn’t win them – you can see how meaningless this Oscar thing is.” – Woody Allen

Will I watch the Oscars again next year?  Probably.  Old habits die hard.  I won’t be watching to see what or who is considered the best.  Those are decisions I can make for myself.  We are all capable of making those choices.  My interest in watching will be what’s going on in the film industry in regards to trends, innovations and political maneuvering.  I confess there’s a part of me that still hopes for some progressive changes.  However, I know better than to hold my breath.

Academy Award, cinema, Film, film industry, Hollywood, motion picture industry, Movies, Oscars, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Everything You Need to Know about the Oscars — Part Two: All in the Family

 

“You know who should have won.  My friends can’t be straight with me!  It was rigged. That’s like family.  They can’t give it to… a stranger!”

Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever

During a pivotal scene in Saturday Night Fever, Tony Manero (John Travolta) realized that his dance contest victory was more about popularity than performance.  Tony was a great dancer, but he knew he had been out danced on that particular night.  His friends, however, were not that objective.  They voted based on how they felt about Tony.  His preferential treatment – though fictional – exemplifies how the Oscars sometimes determines its “best.”  It is not always about the quality of the work.  At times, in addition to popularity, the determining factors include sentiment and compensation. 

As an avid observer of the Oscars for many years, I have experienced countless moments of disbelief.  The first one occurred during the 1974 Best Actor contest when Art Carney won for his role in Harry and Tonto against a field that included Jack Nicholson (Chinatown) and Al Pacino (The Godfather Part II).  No doubt Carney, a comedic actor and older than his fellow nominees, was the sentimental favorite.  The unlikely win by Carney provided a more compelling narrative: “Honeymooners” star conquers drama with Best Actor win!  I’m sure the voters also felt that Pacino and Nicholson, unlike Carney, would have more opportunities to be nominated and eventually win.  Nicholson would go on to win the following year, and Pacino would finally win in the early 90’s (more on that later).

Another compelling narrative that has been irresistible to Academy voters is:  Actor triumphs in directing debut!   Such was the case with Robert Redford in 1981 and Kevin Costner in 1990.  Ironically, both wins came at the expense of Martin Scorsese’s superior work in Raging Bull and Goodfellas, respectively.  Even though Ordinary People is a fine movie that survives the test of time, there is no way it should have topped Martin Scorsese and Raging Bull in the Directing and Best Picture categoriesThe same is especially true for the woefully overrated Dances With Wolves in regards to Goodfellas.

Then there is what I like to call the “make-up” Oscar which is used to compensate an actor for his or her body of work.  As much as I love Pacino, his 1992 Best Actor Oscar was more about recognizing the sum total of his remarkable career, which includes The Godfather and Dog Day Afternoon, than his over-the-top performance in Scent of a Woman.  Many – and I include myself in that number – felt that Pacino’s Oscar came at the expense of Denzel Washington’s extraordinary turn in Malcolm X.  Perhaps Washington’s loss was meant as a slap to Spike Lee, an outspoken Hollywood outsider, or due to the controversial title character. 

Nine years later, however, Washington won the Best Actor Oscar for his 2001 performance in Training Day.  Yes, it was fun seeing Washington play the bad guy, but based on what I’ve seen of him during interviews and by his own admission, Washington’s performance, ad-libs and all, was not much of a departure from his actual personality.  Nevertheless, the Academy did not miss the opportunity to compensate Washington for Malcolm X while at the same time punishing that year’s frontrunner, Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, for behaving “badly” at a movie awards show in Great Britain.  Crowe’s Oscar snub was made even more obvious when the film he starred in took home the major awards.

TO BE CONCLUDED…

Part 3:  The Illusion of Inclusion